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on 13 August 2016
I read Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. People say it is the funniest novel ever written. I don’t think I didn’t get the jokes; I just didn’t find them funny. Don’t get me wrong. I like a comedy novel. I love PG Wodehouse. I fell off the bed laughing at Catch 22. I prefer Graham Greene’s entertainments to his novels.
I have the same feeling about White Noise as I had with Scoop.
The basic comedic premise of White Noise is that we all live repetitious, vacuous lives of suburban ennui, so why are we all so scared of dying and leaving it all behind. Or is the joke more that we live such intellectually empty lives of vapid consumerism and channel hopping that the only thing we have to think about is our own demise and that, if we lived closer to edge, we would not be so preoccupied with dying? Either way, it’s all about the inversion quiet suburban riskless security/dying and death defying danger/living.
The book riffs on this throughout. The apparently safe suburbanites are pursued by death wherever they go: a visit to the doctor can bring on a death sentence and spills of toxic waste can happen anywhere at any time. There is no antidote to this fear of death. Or is there? Perhaps there is a drug to repress this fear. And this is where the madness begins.
The suburbanite’s fear of ending the living death that is his life is not the only joke. There are many others. Mostly these are similar inversions: the children who show more maturity and judgment than their infantile parents, and the philistine academics who don’t understand the basics of their own subject and who are constantly on the lookout for undemanding subjects to create easy to pass courses in order to attract more students. Some of the jokes are actually quite good: the disaster recovery specialists who use real disasters as rehearsals for the perfect simulated disaster rehearsal or the nuns who don’t believe in God, but who make sure everyone believes they believe because, if the rest of us believed that no-one believed, then there would be no distinction in not believing. Truth needs its opposite to exist; you can’t have the “white” without the “noise”.
Some of the jokes can be quite abstruse. The side effect of the drug designed to make you forget about dying, a drug that doesn’t in fact work, is that it makes the taker unable to distinguish between the words and the things they represent. Surely this cannot be a joke aimed at the academic fashion for structuralism in the 1980s – all that nonsense about signifiers and signified? Perhaps DeLillo is warning us that reading Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality is a living death.
The novel is in three parts. Part 1 deals mostly with the parody of contemporary academia, as well as introducing the characters. Some of the characters are first rate: the earth-mother/star child fifth wife Babette, the wise fool best friend Murray Jay Siskind, who has all the answers, mostly to questions that were not asked and all of them tight on the border of sense and nonsense, and the son, apparently named after Heinrich Himmler, who is sceptical where he should be certain and credulous where he should be sceptical. Part 2 is an over-extended set piece revolving around the celebrated “Airborne Toxic Event”. The final part deals with the anti-fear of death drug and this is by far the best part where the author finally lets go a bit and injects a bit of energy into the prose.
The fact that the writing only takes off in last few chapters highlights the problem with the book. DeLillo, who loves to parody academia, writes like an academic. It’s all too cold and calculating, as he proceeds systematically from comic set-piece to comic set-piece as though the reader is a student in a literary master class. Like the pedantic professor, he spends too much time basking in his own literary cleverness and chuckling at his own jokes. In fact this is a tendency that gets worse with his later, longer works. In Underworld, it seems that some of the set-pieces and extended jokes will last forever.
DeLillo is often compared to his close contemporary Thomas Pynchon. I can see the similarity, but Pynchon, at least in his earlier more brilliant work, wrote with much more freedom and energy. There are moments where Pynchon gives the impression of losing control of his writing altogether as he crashes across the boundaries of common sense and good taste.
It’s like comparing the screwball comedies of another two American contemporaries: Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges. Both these men were consummate professionals, who knew exactly what they doing. With Sturges, you feel that you are being led from set-piece to set-piece. In fact, he even makes a virtue of this, often allowing the viewer to see each step in the build up to the next pratfall. Hawks is more prepared to let go, allowing the actors greater freedom to relish the feast of language provided by the writers. His screwballs seem constantly on the edge of complete meltdown. Sturges’s films are not like that; you can always feel the invisible hand of the director guiding things along to the next set-piece. It’s the same with DeLillo.
Give me the anarchy of Hawks or Pynchon every time. I can admire Sturges and DeLillo, but not love them. To pick up the theme of White Noise, DeLillo gives us fear of a lingering death by good writing. Thomas Pynchon is the antidote, with no side effects of which I am aware…apart from the odd bout of randomised all consuming paranoia.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 August 2017
DeLillo’s eighth novel must be one of his more accessible novels although it is over-written leaving this reader disappointed. The first part is a blunt satire on the campus novel and focuses on Professor J. A. K. Gladney who [despite not speaking a word of German] teaches Hitler Studies at the College-on-the-Hill, Blacksmith [‘a town of dry cleaning shops and opticians’], within the Department of Popular Culture. Its bombastic Head has his collection of pre-war soda pop bottles on permanent display].

Gladney, who has married five times, lives with his wife, Babette [a teacher of posture to retirees], and a collection of wonderfully abnormal children and step children, including Heinrich [an infuriating know-all whose hair is already receding at 14 and who plays correspondence chess with a multiple killer], Denise [whose concerns about carcinogens cause her to read Physicians Desk Reference from cover to cover] and Steffie [who is addicted to burning toast]. Babette and Gladley are both obsessed by death and when a visiting lecturer Murray J. Siskind, unable to teach Elvis Studies, proposes a seminar on Car Crashes [‘Cars with cars. Cars with trucks. Trucks with buses. Motorcycles with cars. Cars with helicopters. Trucks with trucks. …. They mark the suicide wish of technology’.] opportunities arise for the three of them to discuss the topic. The white noise of Americans living, working and above all consuming is an obvious target and DeLillo can hardly miss. As Murray says ‘Here we don't die, we shop’.

The satirical humour is more blunt than pointed but still the link to the much darker second part is disjointed. Here a rail accident causes a leak of toxic Nyodene D, leading to the evacuation of the surrounding towns. Gladney is annoyed [‘I don't see myself fleeing an airborne toxic event. That's for people who live in mobile homes out in the scrubby parts of the county, where the fish hatcheries are.’] but follows orders. When he leaves his car to get petrol he is exposed to the airbourne material, much to the consternation [and interest] of SIMUVAC – Simulated Evacuation – officials; will he now die in twenty years or forty? And exactly when does a Simulation become Reality?

The family spend nine days away from home before it is judged safe to return. However, in the final [and best] part Babette’s fear of dying has increased, causing her to seek a solution behind her husband’s back. However, her changed behavior worries the family and leads Gladney, increasingly influenced by Murray, to contemplate an irreversible act.

Whilst the almost impenetrable language that Gladley and Murray use in their discussions about the future and death pokes fun at academics it soon began to wear. Having created a series of comic, and in some cases, cartoon characters DeLillo cannot restrain his love of language sufficiently to unite his thinking. From the opening page he is enthralled by lists - ‘The roofs of the station wagons were loaded down with carefully secured suitcases full of light and heavy clothing; with boxes of blankets, boots and shoes, and books, sheets, pillows, quilts; with rolled-up rugs and sleeping bags; with bicycles, skis, rucksacks, English and Western saddles, inflated rafts.’ Frequent visits to shopping malls allow him to describe the quantity, quality and colour of the goods on offer, and the key to securing them ‘Mastercard, Visa, American Express’.

The metaphysical discussions between Gladney and Murray begin to pall and this becomes all the more obvious when in the final pages the compulsive character of Sister Hermann Marie is introduced. DeLillo is frighteningly prescient when listing psychics’ predictions ‘’Members of an air-crash cult will hijack a jumbo jet and crash it into the White House in an act of blind devotion’. This book was published in 1985.

A blunt satire propelling all before it but it could have been much more, 7/10.

[The reviews here are very muddled, with references to a CD and to other novels by DeLillo. Action please Amazon].
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on 28 September 2016
I was so looking forward to this book, with all the rave reviews and calls of 'genius'. But, I'm sorry to say, the dialogue is so awful I didn't get past the first few chapters. DeLillo writes the words of others like he is writing prose - it's completely inauthentic, and so off-putting that I couldn't get past it. What a shame.
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on 26 December 2014
For some people the dire lack of a story may be problematic, but not for me or this review as there`s no real story to ruin, so fear not.

The blurb promises to cover a few topics which should be of interest to us all and each one is skimmed across and cheerily ticked off the writers list. One shouldn’t expect any challenging thoughts, only a quick nod in its direction. We are told that our main character is forced to confront his greatest fear, his own mortality. And he does, very quickly before continuing with his life. In this apparently absurd, yet incredibly dull world the writer has brought us, it`s actually his wife that harbours a great problem with this fact of life and goes out of her way to do something about it. Our heroic main character promises to work through this with her and the whole idea is put to rest. Which thankfully leaves them time to go food shopping and marvel at the various varieties of ham on offer, thereby ticking off another grand topic, rampant consumerism.

Humour is just another forgotten promise in this book. One can`t expect any laughs from the most shallow characters who are the weakest I’ve come across in perhaps any book. Mercifully I won`t have to go into detail to explain as there is very little to explain. The character creation would have taken less than two minutes.

The most infuriating thing about white noise is that it ignores the possibilities it sets up and always decides upon the most mundane route to another none event. I`m not after mass death and destruction in the wake of the books only event, the toxic airborne event, but this simply comes, goes and is forgotten just as quickly.

White noise is the only book that immediately upon finishing, has been angrily tossed away into the corner. There are the quickest of touches upon the other topics mentioned, but no more, so I wouldn’t waste your time on this book.
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on 11 June 2003
This album is one of the best albums of 2002. Ok, so 'electronic' music is not so trendy at the moment (only because it doesn't get the exposure of course) but this record makes you realise that there's no substitute for a good tune with a melody! The use of 'electronic noises' and instrumentation is precise and together with careful use of vocals is spot-on. There is not one bad track on this album and you are guaranteed not to tire of it because it is actually quite diverse and therefore difficult to describe and pigeon-hole.
'Carbon Kid' should not really influence your decision to buy or not to buy this as White noise works very well as an album more than on an individual song basis. I listened to their first album B.A.S.I.C, which made me laugh because it was so lacklustre (which incidentally is nothing like this wonderful piece of work, B.A.S.I.C, was, in comparison, well...basic, really). There have been comparisons to New Order but that's unfair and uneccessary, just enjoy the record and give Alpinestars the credit they deserve.
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on 23 June 2015
I don't 'get' DeLillo. Not an easy thing to admit knowing that he's one of those writers you'd mention as your favourite if you were being interviewed to join a literature-in-English class in college. This is not the first Delillo I've read but it's going to be the last. Life - to use a cliche that would never appear in his work - is too short.
An earlier Goodreads reviewer described the experience as reading through fog and I agree - the quick jumps between narratives, the jumbled time frames, the missing years that are not made clear. Characters act without clear motivations and they think a lot about nothing much. One of the infuriating things - mentioned by the same reviewer - is the post Wolf Hall use of the pronoun without making it clear to the reader who it refers to. On more than one occasion I started a section thinking I was reading about one protagonist only to discover halfway through that it was another. This led to much re-reading, making the book a trial rather than a pleasure. The writer - and/or his editor - must know that this is the effect they are creating so why do it?
Now the hard part. Given Delillo's reputation and the praise lavished on this book I can only deduce that I'm not sufficiently equipped intellectually to cope with American literature of this standard. (I had a similar problem with Open City by Teju Cole.) Perhaps this is a lesson hard learned and I'll not be swayed by reviews to pick up a book that I know deep down is simply too hard for me. Give me characters I can relate to. Give them a story that makes me turn the page. Aah! We're back to that much derided term - give me readability!
One last thing: a shout out to Noma Bar who designed the cover picture on this edition. Simple but, dare I say it, her single illustration carried more emotional heft than all of DeLillo's 250 pages.
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on 8 April 2016
Some books make you interested in the plot. Some books make you interested in the characters. The best books make you do both. This book does neither. It can be summed up in just one word: BORING. The characters are poorly described and inadequately defined. After the initial event of 9/11, nothing actually happens to them. They just wander about and the best thing about this book was reaching the end and no longer having to endure the inane happenings of their boring lives.
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on 22 November 2002
I find it quite strange to see many lukewarm reviews both in the general music press and on this site. The broadsheet papers where much more behind it giving anything betwee 8 and 10 out of 10. I think the people who didnt like it were fans of the first album, which was shamelessly retro and made for a small record label with no recording budget. In my view White Noise is a fantastic album and there is absolutely nothing like it around at the moment, both in style and contact. Alpinestars have developed into a songwriting band using all forms of instruments. They've moved away from the plethora of sampler duo (read Royksopp and Lemon Jelly) chill out music and used much more live instrument over the songs. They also sing (all but one of) the tracks themselves rather than rely on convenient cool collaborations (with Molko's reputation and battering from the press he can not be regarded as sales boosting!!). I think they've made a very rare record these days, beautiful and emotional from start to finish. Absolutely nothing like New Order (apart from Vital Love Disciple. Thats a very lazy comparison to make because they are an electronic band from Manchester). I would say White Noise is just as influenced by Nick Drake (re Burning Up, New Ice Age, Crystalnight) and Daft Punk (Nu Sex City). I think it will be a gem that people will be listening to in 20 years time over and over again and wondering why it never sold a by the million at the time.This is top drawer music, timeless and unique. Snow Patrol (Part 2, not the single version) is quite simply the most enchanting song ive heard for years, bubbling with tension and seedy lyrics. Very accessible, non pretensious, underground pop music. If you're only after ironic retro 80's revisiting, this aint the album for you, despite other misleading reviews it is stunninly diverse but flows majestically. If you dont have it, your missing out.
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on 23 May 2014
DDL has written something clever and funny here but it stretches definition to call it a novel, even more so than Finnegans Wake or Beckett's The Unnameable. It sure looks like the real deal - paper covers, pages, and apparently packed with characters in the conventional sense - Jack Gladney, wife Babette, son Heinrich (apt; you'll see why), an assortment of daughters, ex-sports hack Murray Jay Siskind, Dr Chakravarty, various academics at Jack's college, etc. - but in fact the only person here is DDL himself, relentlessly debating the big issues with himself, death the biggest. Does that matter? No, not when the writing is so excellent - "His bright smile hung there like a peach on a tree" - the philosophising so potent, and the jokes so good. Want to meet the disaster simulation team that uses a real emergency as a practice run for their big simulation? Or the college professor who tutors Hitler studies only to be taught German by the Fuhrer himself? It's all here, including a tacked-on bit at the very end which was obviously a leftover from the planning stage and refused to fit anywhere else. Like I said, not a novel, but a splendid, intelligent and hilarious soliloquy on life, matter, energy and death. The whole damned shooting match, as "Jack Gladney" comes to realise. ADDENDUM JANUARY 22 2016 I should have stressed death more in the above review as it's one of the main themes - put simply, how can we as self-aware beings cope with the constant terror of oblivion? Various "characters", inasmuch as we have any here, try various ploys to achieve this state of divine repression, including a community of German nuns who only pretend to believe in the whole Roman Catholic charade of angels and afterlife to encourage the non-believers. The last word in this 40-chapter novel (maybe significant) is "dead", though the writing is alive as it gets.
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on 25 June 2002
Alpinestars second album has much in common with the first; catchy, melodic synth inspired dance music with a kraut-rock and 80's edge to it. This time round though there's a little more emphasis on the rock with acoustic and electric guitars featuring prominently throughout the album. Their sound has certainly progressed and the addition of the rockier edge to certain tracks creates a more dynamic sound. Influences also seem to be a little more diverse and broader this time round with the vocals also stronger throughout. Highlights are the excellent singles Snow Patrol and Carbon Kid (featuring Brian Molko) plus the superb disco dance pop of NuSex City. The rest of the tracks don't match up to the high standard of the aforementioned but are by no means poor, it's just a pity they don't have that same lasting impact on the ears and mind. Certainly worth a listen and definitely worth investigation if you liked their last offering B.A.S.I.C. For the uninitiated, listen to one of the singles first and if they float your boat snap the album up. Fans of the Lo-Fidelity Allstars should also find the album interesting.
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